(A remembrance that we never imagined having to write.)
Ella Turenne passed away suddenly on the evening of Christmas 2021. The shock has been felt and expressed by the many, many people throughout her life who knew and loved her, including those of us who are part of the Inside-Out family around the globe. We’d like to share a little bit about Ella as we came to know her over the years.
Ella took the Inside-Out Training in January of 2006 and began co-facilitating trainings not long after that. At a certain point, we lost count of just how many trainings she was involved in, but 30 or so would be a safe guess. She was a natural at facilitation, guiding the group with a steady, but gentle, hand. We learned so much from Ella’s insights and creative ideas. She helped to tweak the trainings in ways that were as substantial as they were subtle. She was also the main driver behind our transforming the in-person training to an online platform, something that we never imagined could have been possible.
But Ella’s connection and dedication to Inside-Out went far beyond the trainings. She was part of the Executive Committee for years and has been a major go-to person in thinking through strategic decisions. She also served as the Inside-Out coordinator for California, as well as speaking / presenting about the program whenever she had the opportunity. Suffice it to say that Ella was a centerpiece of our program for a long time and has left her handprint on it in countless ways.
However, Ella was involved in innumerable other projects and initiatives in her relatively short life. She has been described as an outstanding artist, activist, scholar, actor, television host, filmmaker, journalist, poet, author, and curator. She was engaged in multiple dimensions of the arts for decades, projects with the Haitian American community, and her well-loved Delta sorority. Ella spent many years as an administrator at Occidental College in California, having left there a year and a half ago to pursue her dream of getting a doctorate in the arts. She loved the arts program at UC Irvine and was expanding and deepening her creativity literally on a daily basis.
Here are a couple of things that you may or may not know about Ella:
Anyone who knows Inside-Out knows the importance of the Wagon Wheel. Though it sounds somewhat silly, one of Ella’s proudest moments was holding the largest Wagon Wheel probably ever recorded in history (if such things are recorded). She used it with hundreds of first-year students simultaneously on orientation day at Occidental College. Literally, Ella was willing to try just about anything!
She was, most fundamentally, a shy, somewhat private person — ironic in that so much of her life’s work was very public in nature.
When Ella first went to Graterford Prison (for her training), she was so moved by the men there that she decided to become a vegetarian — as a form of solidarity and sacrifice in recognition of the sacrifices that incarceration demands. She never deviated from that commitment.
Ella was fiercely loyal, profoundly passionate, and deeply dedicated to issues of justice, fairness, and equality. She was very funny, but took life quite seriously, and was a strong, proud Black woman who was gentle and humble of spirit and full of an inexhaustible reservoir of joy.
And, most importantly, Ella both enjoyed and adored her family — a very tight-knit family that was core to who she was able to be in the world.
Here are some of the ways that Ella described herself:
“a perpetual student of the world,”…
“a one woman army of culture,”…
and a “champion for freedom, justice, and expression.”
Upon receipt of the initial email that was sent to the listserv, many people responded with reflections on her life, like the following:
“The world lost a powerhouse of justice, equity, creativity and a person with an amazing ability to challenge us to think and act in new and better ways.”
“… her beautiful life and touch.”
“Ella was and will always be for me vibrant, amazing, and inspiring, with a beautiful and infectious laughter and quick wit.”
“She was an indefatigable advocate for carceral education and an outstanding mentor to those of us who wanted to emulate her commitment.”
“There is a deep, Ella-size hole in our Inside-Out family, and it is going to take time to heal.”
“I believe she lived such an impactful life without wasting any time because her assignment here was short. She completed what she was assigned here to do and what’s unfinished we can carry forward with the goodness, service, joy, and force that her living inspired. Her spirit remains.”
“And to all of us, [this is] a reminder to live our best lives every day.”
On a personal level...
I’ve known Ella for 16 years and worked closely with her for nearly 14 of them. I have never taken Ella for granted — I always appreciated everything that she brought to the program — and to me as a friend. I loved and admired her — and often told her that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She has always been one of my very favorite people on earth.
What I did take for granted, however, is that she would always be there. And now she’s not. At least, corporeally.
The thing that is truest about Ella is that her spirit could not be contained — it is a liberated, liberating spirit — a force of nature — that I still feel floating, joyfully, around me. It doesn’t remove the pain of loss — but it speaks to the energy that has always flowed from her — boundless, irrepressible… yes, even in death.
We will be holding a special Zoom session as a REMEMBRANCE OF ELLA’S LIFE AND LEGACY on Wednesday, January 26th, at 4:00 pm EST. The Zoom link is:
We are also hoping to collect written reflections on Ella’s life that we can gather and share with her family and the Inside-Out global family. Please send any reflections to: email@example.com